Managing coronavirus (COVID-19) risks: Retail industry

Preventing and controlling employee exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) in the retail industry.

Directions and industry requirements are regularly updated

This guidance is correct as at time of publication, however, Victorian Chief Health Officer (CHO) Directions and industry requirements are regularly updated. Readers of this guidance need to check the latest CHO Directions for applicability.

Restrictions apply across Victoria

Depending on your industry your workplace may:

  • be required to close temporarily for on-site work
  • remain open for on-site work with a completed COVIDSafe Plan in place
  • be subject to restricted operations or industry specific obligations.

It is mandatory for every Victorian business with on-site operations to have a COVIDSafe Plan.

Victoria’s COVIDSafe settings may be updated at any time. You must stay up to date with changes for your industry.

How are my occupational health and safety (OHS) obligations impacted by the restrictions?

There is no change to your obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) and Occupational Health and Safety Regulations 2017 (OHS Regulations) as a result of the directions issued by the Victorian Chief Health Officer (CHO).

Preparation of a COVIDSafe Plan forms part of the development of a safe system of work. However, having a COVIDSafe Plan and complying with the Victorian CHO directions does not necessarily mean you have complied with your duties under the OHS Act and OHS Regulations.

You must follow any health directions that apply to how your business must operate, and ensure that you are meeting your obligations under the OHS Act. Employees must also comply with their duties under the OHS Act.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and the retail industry

Coronavirus (COVID-19) can cause mild to severe respiratory illness. The most common coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms reported are:

  • fever
    • chills or sweats
      • cough
        • sore throat
          • shortness of breath
            • runny nose
              • loss of sense of smell or taste

                Coronavirus (COVID-19) is most likely to spread from person-to-person through:

                • close contact with someone who has coronavirus (COVID-19)
                  • touching objects or surfaces, such as door handles, contaminated by a person with coronavirus (COVID-19)

                    Workplaces in the retail industry include areas where employees interact with customers —putting them at risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19). Employees may also work near other retail staff and have contact with external contractors.

                    Retail workplaces include:

                    • vehicle dealerships (for example, motor vehicles, motorbikes, caravans and trailers, tyres and mechanical replacement parts)
                    • petrol stations
                    • supermarkets
                    • specialized food stores (for example, butchers, green grocers, liquor stores)
                    • homeware stores (for example, furniture, floor coverings, housewares and textile goods
                    • electrical and electronic stores
                    • hardware, building and garden supplies
                    • recreation stores (for example, sporting, camping and fishing equipment)
                    • clothing and footwear stores and other personal accessories
                    • department stores
                    • pharmacies
                    • newsagents
                    • antique and used goods dealers
                    • florists

                    Note: Supermarkets are considered an Additional Obligation Industry under the Workplace Directions.

                    Under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 (OHS Act) employers have a duty to provide and maintain, so far as is reasonably practicable, a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees, including independent contractors. This includes preventing risks to health, including psychological health, and safety associated with potential exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19).

                    Employees have a duty to take reasonable care of their own and others health and safety in the workplace. This includes cooperating with actions taken by their employer to comply with the OHS Act or Regulations.

                    Identifying risks

                    Employers must identify hazards and, if necessary, assess the level of risk to the health of employees from exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) at their workplace. Employers must consult with health and safety representatives (HSRs), if any, and employees, so far as is reasonably practicable.

                    Risk of exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19) in the retail industry can arise from:

                    • working near employees and contact with customers
                      • contact with commonly touched surfaces, including counters, handrails, doors, cash registers, touch screens, phones, keyboards, scanners and EFTPOS terminals
                        • sharing workplace amenities such as kitchens, lunchrooms, communal areas, change rooms, toilets, drink fountains and vending machines
                          • contact with delivery drivers and other contractors attending the workplace
                            • being an employee who is at greater risk of being very sick from coronavirus (COVID-19)

                              Employers must do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate or reduce the psychological risks and hazards to employees at the workplace.

                              Psychosocial hazards that may arise from coronavirus (COVID-19) in a retail environment include:

                              • exposure to violence and aggression
                                • increased work demand
                                  • changed work arrangements
                                    • anxiety and fear
                                      • employment uncertainty

                                        Controlling risks

                                        Face masks in workplaces

                                        Directions from the Victorian Chief Health Officer about face masks are in place across Victoria. For more information see the guidance Managing COVID-19 risks: Face masks in workplaces.

                                        Where a risk to health is identified at a workplace, employers must, so far as is reasonably practicable, eliminate the risk. Where it is not possible to eliminate the risk, then the risk must be controlled, so far as is reasonably practicable.

                                        The types of control measures required depends on the level of risk as well as the availability and suitability of controls for each workplace, including individual work areas.

                                        Consult with employees

                                        Employers have a duty to consult with employees, independent contractors and any HSRs, so far as is reasonably practicable, on matters related to health or safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect them. This includes consultation on identifying hazards or risks and decisions about how to control risks associated with COVID-19.

                                        The consultation should be conducted in accordance with any agreed consultation procedures.

                                        Screening and quarantining

                                        Employers should implement an employee screening process to minimise the introduction of coronavirus (COVID-19) into the workplace, for example by asking employees at the start of their shift, before they enter the workplace, if they:

                                        • are subject to any health directions (such as isolation, quarantine or in relation to travel)
                                          • have travelled
                                            • have been in contact with any confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19)
                                              • have any have any of the symptoms listed above, however mild

                                                You should direct employees to inform you if they:

                                                • experience any coronavirus (COVID-19) symptoms, however mild
                                                  • have been (or have potentially been) exposed to someone who has been diagnosed with or is suspected of having coronavirus (COVID-19)
                                                    • are subject to any health directions (such as isolation, quarantine or in relation to travel)
                                                      • have undertaken, or plan to undertake travel

                                                        An employer's duty to eliminate or reduce risks associated with exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19), so far as is reasonably practicable, includes ensuring that:

                                                        • employees know what to do, or who to notify, if they feel unwell or suspect they have coronavirus (COVID-19), according to the information provided by DH
                                                          • unwell employees do not attend the workplace, including those who have been tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) and received a negative test result. An employee who has received a negative result should only attend the workplace if all symptoms have resolved
                                                            • employees who have been tested for coronavirus (COVID-19) and are awaiting their result do not attend the workplace
                                                              • employees who test positive for coronavirus (COVID-19) do not attend the workplace

                                                                If an employee develops any of the symptoms of coronavirus (COVID-19), however mild, they should:

                                                                • quarantine at home immediately, seek advice from their doctor or the DH 24-hour coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398, get tested and wait at home for their test result
                                                                • tell their employer as soon as possible, follow the procedures their workplace has in place, and update their employer if their situation changes (for example if they receive a positive coronavirus (COVID-19) diagnosis)

                                                                In the event of a suspected coronavirus (COVID-19) case at the workplace, Directions from the Chief Health Officer may also require that employers take specific response actions.

                                                                Notifiable incidents and COVID-19

                                                                From 28 July 2020 new temporary regulations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004 specify when employers and self-employed persons must notify WorkSafe of a confirmed diagnosis of COVID-19 in the workplace. For more information see the guidance Notifiable incidents involving COVID-19.

                                                                The Victorian Government is providing one-off payments to financially support Victorian workers, including parents and guardians, who are required to self-isolate or quarantine due to coronavirus (COVID-19).

                                                                Physical distancing

                                                                It is important to keep your distance from others, as coronavirus (COVID-19) is spread from close contact with a person with coronavirus (COVID-19). The following measures can assist with physical distancing:

                                                                • maintain a physical distance of at least 1.5 metres from others where possible
                                                                • display signs, install barriers and place stickers on the floor to help customers maintain physical distancing
                                                                • optimise physical distancing in the layout of the workplace by reviewing entry and exit points, flow of staff and clients, and location of hand sanitiser
                                                                • install screens of sufficient size at checkouts or service areas to prevent customers breathing or coughing into the employee’s workspace
                                                                • limit the number of people in the workplace at any one time to ensure that the 1 person per 4 square metre rule is followed
                                                                • where physical distancing cannot be followed for an activity, consider if that activity needs to continue for the business to operate. If the activity needs to continue then control the risks as much as possible (for example, by installing protective screens to separate employees and customers)
                                                                • consider redesigning work areas or implementing controls to ensure employees are separated by a minimum of 1.5 metres and are also separated from customers, for example at service desks
                                                                • consider providing additional leave where leave is necessary due to coronavirus (COVID-19). This may reduce the risk of employees attending work when unwell due to financial needs.
                                                                • provide employees information about the Victorian Government’s Worker Support Payment

                                                                Under Directions from the Chief Health Officer, Workplaces may also be required to comply with particular density quotient rules for shared spaces.

                                                                Deliveries and other contractors attending the workplace

                                                                Consider the following measures to enable physical distancing between employees and delivery or other contractors attending the workplace:

                                                                • cancel or postpone non-essential visits to the workplace
                                                                  • minimise the number of workers attending to deliveries and contractors
                                                                    • implement measures to manage the flow of traffic within the premises
                                                                      • make hand washing facilities or alcohol-based hand sanitiser available for employees after physically handling deliveries
                                                                        • clearly instruct contractors of hygiene and physical distancing requirements that are in place
                                                                          • use electronic versions of documents
                                                                            • set up alternatives to signatures. For example, a confirmation email or a photo of the loaded or unloaded goods might be accepted as proof of delivery or collection
                                                                              • if a signature is required, request the signer use their own pen or clean and sanitise shared pens between use

                                                                                Employee hygiene

                                                                                Employees have a duty to take reasonable care for their own health and safety at work. This includes practising good hygiene to reduce the risk of exposing others to coronavirus (COVID-19).

                                                                                Employees should:

                                                                                • cover coughs and sneezes with their elbow or a tissue
                                                                                  • immediately dispose of used tissues in a rubbish bin
                                                                                    • wash hands for at least 20 seconds with detergent or use an alcohol-based hand sanitiser
                                                                                      • wash hands before and after eating, after coughing and sneezing, and after going to the toilet
                                                                                        • clean and disinfect surfaces and shared equipment after use

                                                                                          Environmental cleaning

                                                                                          Cleaning the workplace is an effective way to reduce coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission.

                                                                                          Employers should:

                                                                                          • implement a cleaning regime that includes using a disinfectant with antiviral properties to clean the workplace more often than usual
                                                                                            • provide suitable hand sanitising facilities at entrances to the workplace
                                                                                              • provide employees with suitable cleaning materials
                                                                                                • provide employees and customers with tissues and bins
                                                                                                  • train workers in proper hygiene practices and the use of workplace controls
                                                                                                    • implement drive through window or curb side pick-up where possible
                                                                                                      • establish pick-up and drop-off collection points where possible, rather than passing goods from hand to hand
                                                                                                        • display signs asking customers to only touch items they want to buy
                                                                                                          • limit customer handling of merchandise, for example, through different display methods, new signage or rotation, or cleaning of high-touch stock
                                                                                                            • engage cleaners or train employees to clean regularly (at least daily)
                                                                                                              • clean frequently touched surfaces, such as counters, handrails, doors, cash registers, touch screens and phones, keyboards and EFTPOS terminals, using appropriate detergent solutions where possible. Once cleaned, equipment should ideally be disinfected regularly using appropriate disinfectant solutions
                                                                                                                • clean trolleys and hand baskets after use clean protective screens separating employees and customers

                                                                                                                  Cleaning needs to be conducted in accordance with the DH information on cleaning and disinfecting for workplaces.

                                                                                                                  Change rooms

                                                                                                                  Employers should implement measures in change rooms to minimise the risk of spreading the infection to both staff and other customers, as far as it is reasonably practicable. Measures could include the following:

                                                                                                                  • discourage customers from trying on clothes where possible and offer a more flexible returns policy
                                                                                                                    • consider a dedicated hanging rack at the exit to the change rooms and delay returning these items to the shop floor until at least the next morning
                                                                                                                      • require customers to re-hang unwanted clothes on designated racks
                                                                                                                        • remind staff to exercise good hygiene after handling clothes, door handles, hangers and other items
                                                                                                                          • limit contact between customers and employees during fitting, for example by suspending fitting assistance
                                                                                                                            • limit the number of change rooms available to minimise cleaning and to avoid crowding in open areas
                                                                                                                              • display signs that ask customers to keep 1.5 metres apart in any queue
                                                                                                                                • limit the number of customers allowed in the change area at a time to enable physical distancing
                                                                                                                                  • remove seating from in and around the change rooms
                                                                                                                                    • encourage customers to have family and friends wait outside the change room
                                                                                                                                      • provide hand sanitisers at the changing area entrance for use before trying on clothes
                                                                                                                                        • manage the flow of customers in and out of the change rooms to allow enough time for cleaning to take place on a regular basis

                                                                                                                                          Adequate and accessible facilities

                                                                                                                                          Employers must ensure that employees have access to appropriate facilities to support physical distancing and good hygiene.

                                                                                                                                          It is important that:

                                                                                                                                          • employees have access to adequate handwashing facilities in good working order and clean and safe to use all facilities including washrooms, change rooms, toilets and bathrooms are regularly cleaned and well stocked with items such as soap, water, paper towel and toilet paper
                                                                                                                                            • the workplace is stocked with enough alcohol-based hand sanitiser to sustain the demand for increased employee hygiene

                                                                                                                                              Managing psychosocial hazards from coronavirus (COVID-19)

                                                                                                                                              Employers should:

                                                                                                                                              • maintain regular communication with employees on how coronavirus (COVID-19) is being managed at the workplace and what controls are in place
                                                                                                                                                • ensure any changes to systems of work as a result of coronavirus (COVID-19) are well communicated and clearly understood by employees
                                                                                                                                                  • keep up-to-date with information on coronavirus (COVID-19) and regularly share information with employees
                                                                                                                                                    • proactively support employees who you identify to be more at risk of workplace psychological injury (for example, frontline employees or those working from home)
                                                                                                                                                      • provide employees a point of contact to discuss any concerns
                                                                                                                                                        • consider hiring security, and displaying signage aimed to deter potential customer abuse and violence

                                                                                                                                                          Personal protective equipment (PPE)

                                                                                                                                                          PPE can complement other control measures in place to protect against the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19) at a workplace including good hygiene measures, physical distancing, environmental cleaning and providing workers with information and training on the purpose and correct use of PPE. Employers must implement control measures in addition to PPE to protect against coronavirus (COVID-19).

                                                                                                                                                          If employees are required to wear a specific face covering, it is an employer's responsibility to provide them to employees.

                                                                                                                                                          Additional PPE is not recommended unless the risk of coronavirus (COVID-19) transmission is determined to be high following a risk assessment. If it is determined that PPE is required, it must be provided to employees. Any PPE provided must fit correctly. Additional PPE that can assist with protecting employees from coronavirus (COVID-19) includes:

                                                                                                                                                          • gloves
                                                                                                                                                            • disposable respirators (compliant with Australian Standard AS1716) used by healthcare workers for protection from airborne exposure to coronavirus (COVID-19)
                                                                                                                                                              • screens
                                                                                                                                                                • uniforms

                                                                                                                                                                  Where PPE is provided to employees for controlling the risk of exposure, employers must ensure:

                                                                                                                                                                  • PPE is maintained in good working order
                                                                                                                                                                    • employees are provided information, instruction and training in the correct use of PPE

                                                                                                                                                                      PPE should only be used in certain circumstances at the workplace.

                                                                                                                                                                      Legal duties

                                                                                                                                                                      Employers have duties under the OHS Act, which include that they must, so far as is reasonably practicable:

                                                                                                                                                                      • provide and maintain a working environment that is safe and without risks to the health of employees and independent contractors
                                                                                                                                                                        • provide adequate facilities for the welfare of employees and independent contractors
                                                                                                                                                                          • provide such information, instruction, training or supervision to employees and independent contractors as is necessary to enable those persons to perform their work in a way that is safe and without risks to health
                                                                                                                                                                            • monitor the health of their employees
                                                                                                                                                                              • monitor conditions at any workplace under the employer's management and control
                                                                                                                                                                                • Provide information concerning health and safety to employees, including in languages other than English, where appropriate
                                                                                                                                                                                  • ensure that persons other than employees of the employer are not exposed to risks to their health or safety arising from the conduct of the undertaking of the employer
                                                                                                                                                                                    • consult with employees and HSRs, if any, on matters related to health or safety that directly affect, or are likely to directly affect them

                                                                                                                                                                                      A person with management or control of a workplace must ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, that the workplace and the means of entering and leaving it are safe and without risks to health.

                                                                                                                                                                                      Employees also have duties under the OHS Act, which includes that they must:

                                                                                                                                                                                      • take reasonable care for their own health and safety
                                                                                                                                                                                        • take reasonable care for the health and safety of persons who may be affected by the employee's acts or omissions at a workplace
                                                                                                                                                                                          • co-operate with their employer with respect to any action taken by the employer to comply with a requirement imposed by or under the OHS Act

                                                                                                                                                                                            The OHS Act gives HSRs a role in raising and resolving any OHS issues with their employer, and powers to take issues further if necessary. Read about powers of HSRs in Further information.